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Questioning the appropriateness of the natural science approach for organizational behavior and organization theory

October 17th, 2010 10 comments

Behling (2006) highlighted five reasons why natural science model does not rule out in organizational behavior and organization theory:

  1. Uniqueness. Each organization, group, and person differs to some degree from all others. Then, the development of precise general laws in organizational behavior and organization theory is thus impossible. Attempts to generalize from a sample, how carefully it is chosen, will be futile. If it is indeed the case, generalizability of a single study can be pursued by adding more homogeneous populations. But, it still need consider:
    • the definitiveness of the findings
    • the levels of variance explained
    • the applicability of the results to the population
  2. Instability. Phenomena of concern to researchers in organizational behavior and organization theory change frequently. This transitory character cause a difficulty to combine data obtained at different times in order to arrive at general laws. Contrastingly, it is commonly done in the natural sciences. Change of the ‘laws’ governing organization has doubled this instability as well.
  3. Sensitivity. The people who make up organization, as the object of research, and the organizations themselves may behave differently if they notice of researchers hypotheses about them. The changes take form: such awareness may create self-fulfilling prophecies. Participants change their behavior to increase the chances of supporting the hypothesis.
  4. Lack of realism. Manipulating and controlling variables in organizational research may change the phenomena under study. Researcher then cannot generalize from their studies because the phenomena observed inevitably differ from their real world counterparts, primarily if it is applied to laboratory experimentation. Somehow criticisms misunderstood of what a controlled environment for natural science research be. And frequently organization behavior researcher, who has great lack of knowledge, is doing wrong by saying his study is experiment research easily.
  5. Epistemological differences. There is a different kind of ‘knowledge’ which not tapped by natural science approach. Natural science strives to generalize why things happen by identifying causes. On other hand, social science seeks to explain the significance or meaning of phenomena in term of their implications for the unique social systems in which they occur and as manifestation of important social trends, forces and conflicts.

Reference:

Johnson, Phil and Clark, Murray (Ed.) 2006. Orlando Behling: The case for the natural science model for research in organizational behavior and organization Theory. Business and Management Research Methodologies.Volume 1. Sage Publications. London.

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